Kenya and Somalia have signed a tripartite agreement that paves the way for the repatriation of one million refugees to Somalia.
The agreement was signed on Sunday by Kenya's Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed, Somalia's deputy premier and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Deputy President William Ruto who witnessed the signing, said the pact provides for the establishment of a repatriation commission which will be charged with undertaking a harmonised regulatory framework for the voluntary repatriation of the refugees to Somalia, which has witnessed civil strife for more than 20 years.
"We are the happiest people today as the people of Kenya, as we participate in this exercise that will see the biggest ever refugee camp in the whole world (Dadaab) begin the process of orderly, voluntary repatriation of citizens to their homeland where they can go back and participate in their communities and in building their country," said Ruto at the event attended by officials from various UN bodies and ambassadors.
Somalia's Deputy Premier and Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzia Yusuf Adan observed that some peace had been restored in the troubled Horn of Africa state under the leadership of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and it was time the refugees returned home to reconstruct the country.
She added that the Federal Republic of Somalia is committed to creating conditions that will provide for the dignified repatriation of Somalia refugees from Kenya and other neighbouring countries.
"The government of Somalia recognises the need for durable solutions for the refugees who are willing to return to Somalia to rebuild their lives. My government with the help of the international community shall put in place conditions conducive for the return of the refugees including administrative, judicial and security measures, to ensure the success of this exercises."
Adan said Somalis were grateful for Kenya's role in restoring peace, including sending her defence force to fight the Al Shabaab militia.
The DPM urged the international community to support Somalia revive its state structures.
On her part Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said discussions would continue adding that the two states have the best opportunity in two decades to work together to put Somalia's past behind and help Somalis realise their long cherished dreams of a stable, united and peaceful nation.
"This is the beginning of a journey of hope, it's the signal that we have been waiting for, it's a signal that says that our brothers and sisters in Somalia are on track to full and effectively stabilize their country," she said.
"Kenya needs a peaceful and secure neighbour... one that it can work with and develop this region. We are truly happy today that we are sending out that signal that normalcy is returning to Somalia," Mohamed stated as she exuded confidence that the exercise will be successful.
The repatriation plan is expected to take three years and the commission will tasked with working on the logistics of moving the over 560,000 refugees from Kenya back to Somalia.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku said records from the department of refugees at Dadaab indicate that some families have already relocated and resettled in various parts of Somalia.
"Out of the normalcy returning, thousands Somalia nationals through voluntary action have gone back to their country, an indication that the peaceful situation in Somalia is working well for the country," Lenku said.